Monday, March 5, 2012

Antonio A. Santucci, "Antonio Gramsci"

Antonio Gramsci, by Antonio A. Santucci. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010.  $0.00; paper, $0.00 US. ISBN: 978-1-58367-210-5. Pages: 7-201.

Does Gramsci still have something to tell us in a world “without communism”? Can we, as Joseph A. Buttigieg argues, consider Gramsci’s writings as a classic which is both an expression of its epoch, and also an effort to resist contingency and remain open to dialogue with future generations? (p. 19). Antonio A. Santucci’s, an eminent philological scholar of Gramscian texts, well-written intellectual biography of Antonio Gramsci can be viewed as an attempt to answer these questions. In doing this, Santucci provides us not only with a critical evaluation of Gramsci’s ideas, but also tries to explain how they might still be valid for today. It is important to pay attention to Santucci’s interpretation of Gramsci because, as Buttigieg makes it clear, it is through his philologically scrupulous editions of L’Ordine Nuovo [The New Order] (with Valentino Gerratana), Letters: 1909-1926, and Letters from Prison, scholars and students have reliable access to some of Gramsci’s most important writings. (p.10).

In addition to a Preface written by Eric Hobsbawm and a Foreword by Joseph A. Buttigieg, the book consists of five chapters which are Introduction, The Political Writings, The Letters from Prison, The Prison Notebooks, and End-of-Century Gramsci. The chapters reflect Santucci’s distinguishing of Gramsci’s “writings preceeding his incarceration and those of his prison years. To the former belong the hundreds of articles published in various periodicals until the end of 1926; to the latter belong the Letters from Prison and the Prison Notebooks.” (p. 30).

In an intellectual biography, the author tries to provide his/her readers in a coherent manner of the ideas and events that surround intellectual’s life. It can be said that Santucci deals successfully with this challenge by presenting the life-story of Antonio Gramsci without losing the in-depth analysis of his ideas. The links between the text and the context throughout the life of the intellectual is presented in a successful way, that is, Santucci presents both the impact of the context on the ideas of Gramsci, and also the efforts of Gramsci to influence the context through his ideas and writings.

The book’s contributions to the debates regarding Gramsci and his ideas can be gathered under two headings: theoretical and methodological. Theoretically, Santucci tries to contribute to the debates by pointing out to Gramsci’s criticisms of Marx, and of different interpretations of Marxism. For instance, he argues that Gramsci’s criticisms were directed toward Bukharin’s dogmatic Marxism which was mechanistic, lacked dialectical spirit, and produced historical and political determinism. (p. 149). Santucci argues that Gramsci was both against the attempts to canonize Marxism and also to mechanistic and determinist interpretations of Marxism. In place of this determinism and economism, Gramsci tried to open up more space for the subjective element of the will, or in other words, the power of the agency. What is more interesting, I think, is Santucci’s attempt to show the intellectual evolution of Gramsci from being a Crocean to being a Marxist. Being strongly influenced by the idealist Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, Young Gramsci’s idealistic formation is evident in many of his writings in this period, says Santucci. (p.65). However, later, in a similar way to Marx’s relation with Hegel, Gramsci left Croce behind and developed an anti-Crocean stance with the help of Marx. Finally, the closer Gramsci approached Marx, the more his intellectual path diverged from that of Croce. (p. 146).

Reading Gramsci is also useful to be reminded of various methodological issues and problems that can emerge while studying political theory. Some of the issues Gramsci is concerned with are the idea of leitmotif, importance of dialectical thinking and anti-dogmatism, and particularism as opposed to totalizing approaches. While approaching a political philosopher, Gramsci argues that instead of isolated quotations, one should be interested in the leitmotif that provides the general motivation for this particular philosopher. Again, instead of universalism, totalizing theories and determinism, one should pay attention to particularism, inseperability of theory and practice, and dialogical and dialectical thinking. By presenting Gramsci’s own approach to the classics of political theory, Santucci warns scholars who utilize Gramsci’s ideas and concepts in their studies to not to look for isolated sentences or supporting arguments, but instead to be faithful to Gramsci’s general message, or his leitmotif.

In addition to these theoretical and methodological debates, in the first chapter, Santucci discusses the method of Gramsci, the outline of his notebooks, and how to categorize his writings. He talks about Gramsci’s concerns about temporary, perhaps superficial writings on the one hand, and philosophical, more coherent and systematic writings on the other. Also he explains Gramsci’s ability to combine practice and theory, thought and action, and how his thinking of the intellectual is related with other parts of his theory, such as culture, politics, education.

In the second chapter, Political Writings, which is devoted to the analysis of the journalistic writings of Gramsci, Santucci tells about Gramsci’s journalism, the Ordine Nuovo experience, and about the intense and close relationship between Gramsci as the journalist, and the proletariat life in the industrial city of Turin. Although Gramsci considers his journalistic writings as superficial and temporary, in his pre-prison writings, as Santucci shows, one can find the initial core thoughts and arguments which later will become the basis of his more theoretical concepts and ideas, such as historical bloc, political party, and hegemony.

In the third chapter, Santucci explains how Gramsci’s personal letters which were mostly sent to his relatives can help us understand his theoretical development. Later, in the fourth chapter, he discusses the Prison Notebooks.

In the final chapter, Santucci returns to the question of whether or not Gramsci can guide us today, but sounds a bit ambigious. Despite the crisis of the historical communism and the disappearance of the Italian Communist Party from the political scene, which are important in thinking about Gramsci’s relevance today, (p. 162) Santucci argues that as long as questions related to justice, freedom and equality remain unsolved, Gramsci’s ideas would remain valid in confronting current problems. However, he argues that “if Gramsci is not relevant in these cases, it is because major politics, which goes beyond the simple administrative tasks, […] has lost topicality as well. If they continue to stand on the sidelines, then indeed Gramsci’s ideas will definitely be defeated. However, a defeat of Gramsci’s ideas could also signify a collective defeat." (p. 173).

In brief, Santucci tackles well with the challenge of providing the reader an integrated story of the ideas and life of Antonio Gramsci. It can make significant contributions  to the methodological and theoretical debates about Gramsci. Especially his emphasis on the concept of leitmotif, dialogical and dialectical thinking, anti-dogmatism, particularism can serve as guiding principles for scholars who continue to study on Gramsci’s ideas.

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